1. The Dream Deferred

I had to wait until 1987 until I could return to model railroading, but when the time at last arrived, I was ready with a killer plan. The all-new White River and Northern II was intended to be my masterwork, incorporating no less than five different railroads, set in four seasons and four distinct eras, all in an 18 by 24 foot space.

Mixing seasons and eras on one layout is certainly a bizarre-sounding notion. My thought was to create gradual transitions between areas of the layout that were more or less visually separated. At one end of the around-the-wall plan was Fresnel, a large city and terminus for the Greater New England Railroad. This fictional line was based on a composite of several northeast railroads such as the Boston and Maine, Central Vermont, and others. Moving away from the city, the clock started cranking backward and the season shifted, rolling from spring in the present (1980s at the time) to summer in the late 60s (Mattam to Parabola) to autumn in the early 50s, where the GNE met the layout's namesake, the White River and Northern.

Transformed into a dual-gauge railroad, the WR&N was headquarted in White River Junction. Beginning at an interchange with the GNE, the dual-gauge leg of the WR&N descended into Purgatory where it reached a mine deep in the valley via an incline. The narrow-gauge leg twisted its way through a floor-to-ceiling mountain range, eventually ending at Bearcamp, a rugged logging camp set in a 1930s winter scene.

In addition to the GNE and WR&N, the layout also featured Spano Bay Traction Company, a small industrial switching railroad that served the docks and industries surrounding the GNE yards, plus a nearby quarry. The last two railroads were the Fresnel Area Rapid Transit (think about that one) and the 8th Street Trolley. The former joined the GNE at a large passenger terminal, and it doubled as a subway; the latter straddled the transition between the city and the old 'burbs behind the GNE yards. Twin staging yards, hidden beneath Bearcamp, would automatically dispatch trains on the mainline to maintain the illusion of continuous traffic.

Aspects of the plan were stupefyingly ambitious. The scenery along the left side of the center peninsula dropped to the floor. The walkway to the right would be filled in with "water" mounted on drawers that slid under the layout. Ten mirrors would expand the space visually, some of them quite large; you can see how I was working out the logistics of some of the larger ones in the progression of sketches above. The first sketch also reveals I'd originally planned to lay gauntlet track on the John Allen Memorial (duck-under) Bridge.

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